Celebrating 400 years of the King James Bible

I stumbled upon this video tribute to the King James Bible, made by the folks at St. Helen’s Church in London. It looks at the history of the King James Bible and seeks to answer these questions:

Was the King James Version the first translation into English? (1:08)
Was the King James Version King James’ idea? (3:00)
Who was the King James Version against? (5:30)
Was the King James Version a fresh translation? (7:40)
Was the King James Version the most popular Bible of its time? (10:48)?

A Short History of the KJV from St Helen’s Church on Vimeo.

[HT: Adrian Warnock]

The Etymology of “Belief”

In reading through a new book, The Sword of the Lord: The Roots of Fundamentalism in an American Family by Andrew Himes, grandson of John R. Rice, I came across a fascinating quote about the etymology of the English word “belief”. The quote comes from Karen Armstrong, The Case for God (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009), pg. 86.

When the New Testament was translated from Greek into Latin by Saint Jerome (c. 342-420) pistis became fides (“loyalty”). Fides had no verbal form, so for pisteuo Jerome used the Latin verb credo, a word that derived from cor do, “I give my heart.” He did not think of using opinor (“I hold an opinion.”) When the Bible was translated into English, credo and pisteuo became “I believe” in the King James version (1611). But the word “belief” has since changed its meaning. In Middle English, bileven meant “to praise; to value; to hold dear.” It was related to the German belieben (“to love), liebe (“beloved”), and the Latin libido. So “belief” originally meant “loyalty to a person to whom one is bound in promise or duty.” …During the late seventeenth century, however, as our concept of knowledge became more theoretical, the word “belief” started to be used to describe an intellectual assent to a hypothetical–and often dubious–proposition. Scientists and philosophers were the first to use it in this sense, but in religious contexts the Latin credere and the English “belief” both retained their original connotations well into the 19th century.

This rings true to me. I looked to a quick online etymological tool, and found this entry for “belief” which seems to confirm this sense that the English word “belief” has shifted in meaning.


late 12c., replaced O.E. geleafa “belief, faith,” from W.Gmc. *ga-laubon (cf. O.S. gilobo, M.Du. gelove, O.H.G. giloubo, Ger. glaube), from *galaub- “dear, esteemed.” The prefix was altered on analogy of the verb believe. The distinction of the final consonant from that of believe developed 15c. Belief used to mean “trust in God,” while faith meant “loyalty to a person based on promise or duty” (a sense preserved in keep one’s faith, in good (or bad) faith and in common usage of faithful, faithless, which contain no notion of divinity). But faith, as cognate of L. fides, took on the religious sense beginning in 14c. translations, and belief had by 16c. become limited to “mental acceptance of something as true,” from the religious use in the sense of “things held to be true as a matter of religious doctrine” (early 13c.).

This illustrates the difficulties of translation, and the reason why studying the original languages is so important. Any translation will of necessity be inferior to the original, and the receptor words will not always match up one-for-one with the original Greek or Hebrew. It also points out the problem of words changing meaning over time. In our scientific age, “belief” has many connotations that weren’t necessarily there when the King James Version was translated in 1611.

From a theological standpoint, I think the idea that belief is loyalty, covenant faithfulness stands up to Scriptural teaching. Being a believer is not merely assenting to a set of facts, it is committing to follow Christ your entire life long.

I’m interested to hear your thoughts on all this. It is especially appropriate given Easter weekend here, that we think a little more closely about what it means to believe. So feel free to discuss the theological takeaway, or the translational takeaway from this.

The New Testament 1526 Edition, Translated by William Tyndale

In the realm of English Bible translation, one name stands supreme. William Tyndale is the man most responsible for the English Bibles we use today. The King James Version owes a great debt to William Tyndale, very often borrowing Tyndale’s expressions, phrasing and insight into how to use short, concise English words to convey the meaning of the original Greek New Testament. Some say upwards of 85 percent of the words in the King James Bible originate from Tyndale’s work. Later English Bibles owe an indirect debt to Tyndale through their continued dependence on the King James Version’s phrasing, often borrowed from Tyndale.

In England perhaps more than any other area in Europe, the Reformation was birthed from the presence of the vernacular Bible. John Wycliffe’s Bible, various translations from the Latin under his name, had a wide impact on England. But a mere ten years after Erasmus offered the first printed Greek New Testament, William Tyndale gave his English New Testament to the English people. While Tyndale himself was strangled and burned in 1536, only 4 years later his prayer for England was answered. Tyndale’s last words are reported to have been: “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.” In 1538, Thomas Cromwell under the authority of the King called for a publicly available translation and by 1539 the first authorized English Bible, the Great Bible, was made available to Tyndale’s beloved England.

Of Tyndale’s original 1526 New Testament, only three copies survive today. One of those three is in beautiful condition and was purchased by the British Library for more than one million pounds in 1994. Hendrickson Publishers has a beautiful hardback edition with a full color fascimile reproduction of this 1526 Tyndale treasure. The original size of the Tyndale edition was a small octavo size made for the pocket and the Hendrickson reprint is 6.6 x 4.9 x 1.6 inches and matches that smaller feel. The copied pages are very clear, the colorful first letters of chapters and paragraph breaks come through as brilliant as the original with gold lettering and all. Several full color pictures of the various NT authors appear at the beginning of the various books in the New testament, and these miniature portraits are vivid and clear. What’s striking is how high the quality is of this 16th Century printing. The lack of verses is also interesting to a modern eye, as they didn’t exist until 1550.

The book includes a helpful introduction by David Daniell, author of William Tyndale: A Biography (Yale University Press, 2001). Daniell illustrates Tyndale’s masterful command of English and contrasts his work with the Wycliffe Bibles that we still possess today. After the ten page introduction, which helpfully offers a few pointers in making sense of the block, Black Letter print type and out-dated orthography, the fascimile reproduction is given. There are no long treatises explaining Scripture nor any marginal explanations. A small intro of a few lines exists on the only surviving title page of the 1526 edition. And a brief two page “To the Reader” colophon concludes the text.

Tyndale is reported to have once remarked to a “learned man”, “I defy the Pope and all his laws… if God spare my life ere many years, I will cause a boy that driveth the plough, shall know more of scripture than thou dost.” God saw fit to bless Tyndale’s desire and bring it to pass. Today we are incredibly blessed in large part due to his sacrifice. This edition of Tyndale’s work brings this wonderful history closer to home and allows one to examine the very first English New Testament translated from the original Greek language. I will close this review with the concluding paragraph from Tyndale’s “To the Reader,” but I am cheating and using someone else’s interpretation of Tyndale’s English. I took the following from this source.

Them that are learned Christianly, I beseech: forasmuch as I am sure, and my conscience beareth me record, that of a pure intent, singly and faithfully I have interpreted it, as far forth as God gave me the gift of knowledge and understanding that the rudeness of the work now at the first time offend them not, but that they consider how that I had no man to counterfeit, neither was helped {holp} with English of any that had interpreted the same or such like things in the Scripture beforetime. Moreover, even very necessity and cumbrance (God is record) above strength which I will not rehearse, lest we should seem to boast ourselves, caused that many things are lacking which necessarily are required. Count it as a thing not having his full shape, but as it were born before his time, even as a thing begun rather than finished. In time to come (if God have appointed us thereunto) we will give it his full shape, and put out if ought be added superfluously, and add to if ought be overseen thorow negligence, and will enforce to bring to compendiousness that which is now translated at the length, and to give light where it is required, and to seek in certain places more proper English, and with a table to expound the words which are not commonly used and shew how the Scripture useth many words which are wother wise understood of the common people, and to help with a declaration where one tongue taketh not another; and will endeavor ourselves, as it were, to seeth [[meaning, boil or cook]] it better, and to make it more apt for the weak stomachs; desiring them that are learned and able, to remember their duty, and to help thereunto, and to bestow unto the edifying of Christ’s body (which is the congregation of them that believe) those gifts which they have received of God for the same purpose. The grace that cometh of Christ be with them that love him.

Disclaimer: This book was provided by Hendrickson Publishers for review. I was under no obligation to offer a favorable review.

You can pick up a copy of this book at Amazon.com or through Hendrickson, direct.

Reformation Era Bibles from Hendrickson Publishers


Most students of the King James Bible are familiar with the history of English Bible translation. They have heard of William Tyndale and his sacrifice in bringing us the New Testament in English, the first translation from the Greek ever in our language. Tyndale paid for his love of the Bible with his death and burning at the stake in 1536.

After Tyndale, there was the Coverdale Bible and then Matthew’s Bible, the first Bible actually endorsed by the nation of England. The jewel of the Reformation was of course, the Geneva Bible with its controversial study notes. This Bible reigned supreme for a hundred years or so.

The King James Bible took its place and gradually stole the hearts of all Englishmen. It is undoubtedly the finest translation of the bunch and continues to be used widely to this day.

I remember a little over ten years ago, when I had the privilege of opening an early printing of the King James Version — a 1612 text, I believe. I got to handle a 1535 Tyndale New Testament and see authentic pages from a 1611 King James. I was with a group of college students visiting the Rare Book Reading Room in the library at Colgate University. I still get shivers thinking about that experience. I got to see the “f”-s used as “s”-s, the “y” abbreviation used for “the”, and the strange Gothic block print, which is very hard to read. But that wasn’t what thrilled me. Thinking of the treasure of the Bible and the sacrifice of those who gave it to us, was what made that moment so special.

The next best thing to seeing the original Bibles yourself, is having a reprint edition. I have treasured a 1611 edition reprint from Hendrickson Publishers for several years now. The font is more friendly to the eye, than the original 1611 font, but other than that all the orthography is original. Seeing the marginal notes and reading the KJV translation of the Apocrypha are some of the unique pleasures that reading from the 1611 edition offers. Occasionally, comparing that edition with a more modern KJV will also reveal a place where later KJV’s improved the text (or possibly departed from it) — which appeals to my critical eye.

Hendrickson Publishers now has a commemorative 400th Anniversary edition, of the 1611 Bible. I will be giving away one copy of that Bible here on our site in the next few weeks. Details will be forthcoming. Hendrickson also has special reprint editions of Tyndale’s 1526 New Testament, Matthew’s 1537 Bible, and the 1560 edition of the Geneva Bible. Throughout the next month I’ll be posting a brief review of each of these historic Bibles, leading up to the special giveaway of the 1611 Anniversary Edition, King James Bible.

Happy 400th Anniversary KJV – A History

For the 400th Anniversary of the King James Bible, I will be posting a series of articles on the history of the KJV that was originally written by a good friend of mine, Jon Moffitt who is a seminary student at The Masters Seminary in Sun Valley Ca. He wrote this paper last year for an introduction to Bible class. So, none of these writings are original with me, but he gave me permission to post them for the benefit of our readers.


The focus behind this paper is a historical study to present the facts concerning the birth of the King James Bible. Many of the details contained in this overview have been often overlooked and not seen as important. Understanding the history of English bibles in general will help answer many questions and misconceptions concerning Bible versions. The primary focus will be uncovering the facts in relation to the development and production of the King James Bible.

A History of English Bibles from Tyndale to the Rheims–Douay

Tyndale Bible (1525). William Tyndale was a very gifted linguist who was fluent in seven different languages. Tyndale began his work of translating the NT into English during a time when the Roman Catholic Church forbade any translation into the vernacular (common language). Tyndale was the first to translate the entire NT from the Greek into English (although he did consult the Latin Vulgate and Luther’s German translation).[i] John Wycliffe did produce the first English translation in 1380, however it was not from the Greek and Hebrew but derived from the Latin Vulgate. We owe much credit to Mr. Tyndale for his outstanding work. The majority of his work would be used in future English translations. These are some of the beloved phrases that came from Tyndale’s translation: Be not weary in well doing; Am I my brother’s keeper? The salt of the earth; The signs of the times; A law unto themselves; The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak; Fight the good fight; With God all things are possible.

Tyndale also brought some new words into the English language to better maintain the theological implication behind the original language. Some of the more important words were Passover, intercession, scapegoat, and atonement.[ii] Tyndale was murdered before he could finish translating the OT, making it only to 2 Chronicles.[iii]

Coverdale’s Bible (1535). An assistant to Tyndale was a man named Miles Coverdale. In comparison to Tyndale, he did not know any of the original Greek and Hebrew languages; therefore he relied heavily on translations of the OT into Dutch, Latin, and Luther’s German translation.[iv] This Bible would be in the same line as Wycliffe’s Bible because it was a translation of a translation. The major difference between the two is that Wycliffe’s OT was incomplete. Coverdale was also the first to place the Apocryphal books at the end of the OT separating them from the canonical books demonstrating a distinction between inspired and non-inspired books.[v] The order in which we have our Bibles today can also be attributed to the Coverdale Bible.[vi] This was the first English Bible approved by the crown (King Henry VIII) to be published, ironically, one year after Tyndale was burned at the stake for publishing his NT.[vii]

Matthew’s Bible (1537). The translation of this Bible is attributed to the name Thomas Matthew, to hide the identity of the real translator, John Rogers (who also was an assistant to Tyndale).[viii] This is the second Bible licensed by King Henry VIII that was placed in circulation. Roger combined the best of both Tyndale’s and Coverdale’s work, and to assist with interpretation and doctrinal clarity adding notes in the margin.[ix] The Matthew’s Bible was also the first to separate the books into chapters and paragraphs (but not into verses).[x] John Roger was also the first martyr under the reign of Catholic Queen Mary (known as bloody Mary).[xi]

The Great Bible (1539). The name of this Bible comes from its size (16 ½ inches by 11 inches).[xii] Miles Coverdale was commissioned once more by King Henry VIII to produce another translation into English. This new Bible was to be placed in every church in England. As Coverdale revised the Matthew’s Bible, he again was acting more as editor than translator from the original languages. In this Bible, Coverdale used most of Tyndale’s work for the OT from Genesis to 2 Chronicles; and from Ezra to Malachi, he used the Matthew’s Bible (a revision of Coverdale’s first Bible). For the NT he not only used Tyndale’s translation, but also portions from his first Bible, and the Matthew’s Bible.[xiii] Coverdale left out many of the notes that were added for clarity in the margins of the Matthew’s Bible, and the alternative readings were left out as well.

The Geneva Bible (1560). The name of this Bible comes from the location it was translated, Geneva Switzerland. In 1553 King Edward died and was succeeded by Mary Tudor (blood Mary). She was a Roman Catholic queen who put a stop to any translation work, and began killing Protestants, the first being John Rogers.[xiv] Because of this persecution, hundreds of Christians fled to Germany and Switzerland seeking refuge. Coverdale also left and settled in Geneva. During this time many of the Puritan refugees in Geneva were skilled scholars. Godly men like Theodore Beza, who was considered to be one of the greatest scholars of his time; William Whittingham, the general editor of the Geneva Bible (also brother-in-law of John Calvin); William Cole from Cambridge; and Anthony Gilby who was a very skilled Hebrew scholar who oversaw the translation of the OT. These men saw a need to make a new translation rather than a revision of an old one (as the previous translations were revisions of other translations), utilizing the latest textual evidence available to them.[xv] Not only was this a fresh translation (the Hebrew Bible had never been completely translated into English up to this point)[xvi], but the Geneva Bible also contributed many other new facets:

(1) The presence of marginal notes that provided commentary on the biblical text;

(2) a smaller size, making it more affordable than its predecessors and giving it a mass appeal as opposed merely to official church sanction; (3) printing in easier-to-read roman typeface rather than block gothic lettering; (4) italicizing of words not in the original text but needed to make sense in English; (5) dividing the text into verses as well as chapters.[xvii]

The Bishop’s Bible (1568). The Geneva Bible was never accepted as a legitimate translation by the Anglican Church or Queen Elizabeth. It was mostly hated because the Puritans who translated it were very Protestant in their choice of words, and the commentary notes added in the margins taught reformed theology that often opposed Anglican doctrine.[xviii] Because the Great Bible did not hold up to the popularity of the Geneva Bible, the archbishop of Canterbury (Matthew Parker) initiated a new translation. The translation was to be a revision of the Great Bible and all improvements upon the translation would only be implemented if it varied from the Greek and Hebrew. Parker only allowed Bishops or those who would eventually become one work on this translation.  This decision resulted in the Bible’s name. The quality of the revision was very poor because of the lack of accountability over the translators. In the new Bishop’s Bible not much was changed in the OT and Apocryphal books from the Great Bible, but in some sections of the NT there was much freedom taken by many of the bishops leading to erroneous translations.[xix]

The Douay-Rheims Bible (1582–1610). This translation was also in response to the Geneva Bible’s popularity, but this time it was coming from the Roman Catholic Church. The popularity of the Geneva Bible along with its Protestant marginal notes caused many Catholics to leave their faith and join the reformers. To battle against this, William Allen who had left England during the reign of Elizabeth I (a Protestant Queen), published a NT translation from the Latin Vulgate in 1582 in Rheims, and later the OT in Douay in 1509–10. Roman Catholic doctrine is clearly seen in many passages of this bible, and the marginal notes are clearly focused on presenting this bible as a catechism for Catholics.[xx]

[i] A. C. Partridge, English Biblical Translation (London: Deutsch, 1973), 38.

[ii] Ibid, 40.

[iii] Paul D. Wegner, The Journey from Texts to Translation (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999), 299.

[iv] T. Harwood Pattison, The History of the English Bible (Philadelphia: American Baptist, 1894), 135.

[v] James B. Williams and Randolph Shaylor, eds., From the mind of God to the mind of man: A Layman’s Guide to How We Got our Bible (Greenville: Ambassador-Emerald, 1999), 115.

[vi] Bruce Metzger, The Bible in Translation (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), 61.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Williams and Shaylor, 117.

[ix] Ibid.

[x] Leland Ryken, Understanding English Bible Translation: The Case for an Essentially Literal Approach (Wheaton: Crossway, 2009), 43.

[xi] Williams and Shaylor, 117.

[xii] Wegner, 296.

[xiii] Ibid, 299.

[xiv] Williams and Shaylor, 119.

[xv] Ibid, 121.

[xvi] Wegner, 301.

[xvii] Ryken, 44.

[xviii] Ibid.

[xix] Metzger, 66.

[xx] Wegner, 304–5.